The skilled worker shortage

The shortage of skilled workers has been with us for some time – well over a decade in some fields – but over the past year or so it has reached a fevered pitch. As noted by this CNN article:

America’s worker shortage is alive and well, much to the misfortune of US companies that need staff to keep up with demand.

The National Association of Business Economics (NABE) found that nearly half — 47% — of respondents to its Business Conditions Survey reported a shortage of skilled workers in the third quarter. That’s up from 32% reporting shortages in the second quarter of the year, which already was too high for comfort. And nobody thinks the labor shortages will just disappear as 2021 turns to 2022.

Labor shortages are now a hallmark of the recovering pandemic economy, most prevalently in the goods-producing sector, according to the NABE survey. Companies have a hard time attracting the workers they need to feed increased demand from consumers, while the risk of infections remains. Some people are also waiting for the right opportunity to come along before they return to the labor force, quit in order to take better positions or are kept home due to family and care responsibilities.

From the companies’ point of view, 27% cited they had not received enough applications, while 20% reported the job seekers who apply don’t have the right skills.

Meanwhile, the shortage of unskilled workers declined.

Many have blamed our recent workforce crisis on our response to COVID; however, while the virus has exacerbated things, the problem was with us long before that. It was decades in the making, with an academic focus on “four-year degrees for all,” employers ignoring the inevitable aging-out of the skilled Boomers, workforce development systems treating the K-12 system as a black box, outsourcing making skilled professions look riskier, and more.

Regardless; however, the fact that this issue is a top concern of employers opens the door for a stronger relationship between industry and the CTE community. We have heard from any number of CTE professionals that industry is very open to these relationships; some, in fact, are now feeling like they’re in the driver’s seat, with more partners than students. For those who have not reached out to industry, now is absolutely the time: Employer needs will help those doors swing wide open for you.

As you work with employers; however, do keep in mind that this is still a student-driven relationship: Some employers may be desperately trying to fill a hole in their workforce, and forget that these young people are still students, who need education and training on their way to actually becoming qualified. Just keep the focus on student development and you will be well-positioned to build strong and long-lasting relationships with your employer partners.


Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.